As a Simons Fellow, Kimball Milton will spend the 2013-14 academic year at the Laboratoire Kastler Brossel, Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, working with noted physicists Astrid Lambrecht and Serge Reynaud and other members of their research group.
Milton will explore the physics and applications of the quantum vacuum, which is anything but empty with particles popping in and out of existence on very short time scales. This gives rise to the famous Casimir effect, in which there is an attraction between uncharged metal plates. Practical applications of this are becoming more important as nanoscale machines are developed.
"A good example of this," says Milton, "is a project the research group is pursuing called 'non-contact' gears. The idea is that in a nano-machine, if the parts touch each other, they will stick together and ruin the machine. This is largely due to the Casimir effect we are studying. But, what if you make a machine with moving parts that never touch each other? A gear could, in principle, be designed so the teeth never touch, but torque is communicated from one toothed wheel to another by the quantum vacuum force, another aspect of the Casimir effect.
"We have written several papers on this idea, and there is support for it," remarks Milton. "Since the group in Paris is more practically oriented, I think we will be able to come up with a practical design for a machine using the vacuum itself as the 'working fluid'."
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